Bienvenido, El Niño! First big rainstorm arrives and goes easy on us, but more’s on the way

He wore a blue-green Statue of Liberty gown and the obligatory spiked hat, and no amount of rain in the season’s first El Niño-driven storm Tuesday could dampen the spirits of professional sign spinner Pooch McLain.

“When you’re a kid, you like playing in the rain, and you don’t care. Today, I had rain running down my cheeks,” said 57-year-old McLain as he twirled a sign advertising the services of Liberty Tax to drivers passing through the intersection of Wilson Street and Harbor Boulevard in Costa Mesa.

So, how did McLain – a seven-year seasonal worker – handle the weather?

“I just kept dancing.”

It was an attitude that played out in much of Orange County on Tuesday, the first of what forecasters say will be several days of rain.

While the rain caused more inconvenience than damage, there were a few isolated incidents:

• In Santa Ana, a crash involving a car and a bus on southbound I-5 near the 22 sent three people to UCI Medical Center in moderate condition.

• In Buena Park, a man walking near Brea Creek was swept off his feet by fast-moving water and carried almost a mile downstream, said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Steve Concialdi. The man, who was not identified by authorities, pulled himself out near Malvern Avenue and Dale Street and was taken to West Anaheim Medical Center. He was cold and had scrapes on his feet and arms, but was otherwise uninjured.

• In San Clemente, flooding forced the closure of two northbound lanes of I-5 for at least an hour.

Several Orange County cities received well over an inch of rain Tuesday. San Juan Capistrano received 1.77 inches. Corona del Mar and Coto de Caza recorded 1.57 and 1.54 inches, respectively, according to the National Weather Service.

Laguna Hills took in 1.51 inches of rain, and Garden Grove and Costa Mesa each had 1.06 inches. Huntington Beach came in just under an inch with .99 of an inch.

But areas of the county viewed as potential trouble spots before the storm didn’t see much damage Tuesday – a situation that could change as more rain arrives.

In Silverado Canyon, where the possibility of mudslides prompted authorities to issue a voluntary evacuation order, only a few rocks rolled down fire-scarred hills before partially blocking Silverado Canyon Road, the only way in and out of the community. Mud and debris briefly posed a road hazard near the entrance to Cleveland National Forest.

But even as many of the area’s 2,000 residents put sandbags around their properties, by midday – after most of the rain had fallen – none were at Silverado Community Center, where Red Cross has set up a care and reception center for people displaced by flooding or mud.

“We’re all very nervous,” said resident Connie Nelson, chairwoman of Canyon Watch, a group of volunteers who patrol Silverado Canyon neighborhoods to watch out for wildfires and offer help during all natural disasters.

Nelson spent part of Monday night moving eight horses – three of her own and others owned by neighbors – to a barn near the county’s evacuation center for large animals.

Nelson, who lives at the foot of a hill, a potential mudslide spot, wasn’t removing the sandbags she’s put behind her house or the plywood she’s put on her windows. More rain this week could bring slides to an area that’s been vulnerable since fires took out trees and brush two years ago.

“You pray for the best, and you prepare for everything else,” Nelson said. “So we are preparing.”

Closer to the ocean, the storm prompted big waves and a few other headaches.

In Huntington Beach, rain prompted officials to call off the weekly downtown street fair. In Laguna Beach, a sewage spill near the ocean outlet at Bluebird Canyon prompted a closure of about 1,000 feet of beach.

And in Seal Beach, many businesses on Main Street said power was knocked out for part of the afternoon. Over 2,200 customers were affected, and power was fully restored by 6:15 p.m., a Southern California Edison spokeswoman said.

Still, the storm – and the big waves – provided some entertainment for Todd Sherman, his wife, Jen, and their three children. The family, visiting from Arizona, were in Seal Beach because their original place to visit Tuesday, Knott’s Berry Farm, was closed because of the rain.

“It’s way impressive,” Todd Sherman said from the Seal Beach Pier as he pointed at the roller coaster of waves that at times Tuesday reached 7 feet.

In a nearby parking lot, Conrad Camody sat in his car debating whether he should take his surfboard into the turbulent – and potentially polluted – water.

Camody, of Garden Grove, who described himself as an average surfer, said the water was too choppy for truly great surfing.

Then he spotted another surfer out in the lineup.

He came out,” Camody said as he grabbed his board. “I’ll spend an hour and say I did it.”

Still, Camody said he didn’t plan to return to Seal Beach today or Thursday, when waves are expected to reach 12 feet.

For businesses that lost power Tuesday afternoon, the rain wasn’t welcome.

Yong Park, owner of Waki Sushi, stood inside his darkened restaurant and relied on gas-operated appliances to feed a handful of customers.

With no hot water, his staff had to wash dishes by hand.

“I hope the electricity comes back on soon,” he said. “There is nothing we can do.”

Two doors down, at the flower shop Petals and Pop, manager Jenna Norman moved plants away from an inoperative cooler and placed them near a window at the front of the store. The plants survived, she said, because of the low temperatures inside the business.

The stakes were higher in other parts of the county.

Along the eastern bank of the Santa Ana River, near Angel Stadium, Frank Block listened as heavy raindrops beat down on a blue tarp that covered several lawn chairs, a bicycle and boxes filled with his few possessions.

Block, 63, has camped along the riverbed since he became homeless about 16 months ago. He said he worked as a plumber until he suffered a work injury two years ago. Temporary winter shelters at the Fullerton and Santa Ana armories are too far away, he said.

“I’m very ingenious and inventive with what little I’ve got, so I can stay as comfortable as I can,” Block said. “We need someplace to stay dry because it’s just going to get worse.“

He said the county doesn’t have enough homeless shelters. “I was born and raised here in Orange County, and it feels like no one wants to help.”

Michael Diehl, 44, of Tustin began living along the riverbed shortly after Memorial Day. He has been homeless since 2009, he said, when he was the victim of a violent crime that left him hospitalized.

“None of us woke up one day and said that we wanted to be homeless. We do what we can to survive, eat and stay dry when it rains.”

Around noon Tuesday, Nicandro Ceja of Anaheim dropped by the homeless encampment to serve up tacos, beans, potatoes, chilaquiles and bottled water.

“These guys don’t have a home, they’re hungry and I wanted to do something to help them.”

Scott Schwebke, Alyssa Duranty, Alma Fausto, Art Marroquin, Tomoya Shimura and Louis Casiano contributed to this report.

Leave a Reply